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They’re more affordable than a taxi. And unlike public transportation, you need not worry about missing your stop in a language you don’t speak. So what better way to explore a new city on your next vacation than by bike? You can rent a bike on-the-fly from any station’s automatic kiosk, and most offer on-screen payment instructions in multiple languages including English. Simply swipe your card and complete a few simple steps. When you’ve reached your destination, dock the bike at a nearby station and you’re off on your next adventure.

Itreally is that simple. Still, here are a few things you should know before you ride off into the sunset in a foreign city.

Shared bike prorams
How it works
Systems differ from city to city, but generally you can buy a pass for a few hours, or daily. Most passes cover rentals for the first 30 minutes, then charge you extra if you go over.

The average ride is about 20 minutes, which keeps bikes moving through the network. If a longer ride is planned (or if you get turned around and your time is almost up), you can always dock the bike and grab a different one from the nearest station—which starts a new 30-minute rental period.

Tips for smooth, worry-free rides
Follow these rules of thumb to ensure you don’t get stuck witha broken bike, get charged extra, or even get your bike stolen—unfortunately this author speaks from experience.

+ Before swiping your credit card, check to see that the bike you want is in good shape. Test the brakes and make sure the tires are inflated. An ever-so-gentle kick on each tire is a good way to check.

+ When returning your bike, double check to make sure it’s properly docked and fully locked before you walk away. If not, someone could come along and swipe it while it’s still technically under your watch.

+ If the station where you want to return your bike is full and your time is nearly out, you can often use the kiosk to request an extra 10-15 minutes for free and locate a nearby station with available spaces.

+ Most bike sharing systems have apps you can use to find the closest locations with available bikes or spaces.

+ Trying to get somewhere fast? Renting from a bike share system might not be the way to go. Since they’re built for heavy-duty use by riders of all levels, these bikes tend to be a bit clunky and typically have just three gears.

1. Hangzhou Public Bicycle in Hangzhou, China
65,000 bicycles across 2,674 stations

Sixteen of the 20 largest bike-sharing cities in the world are in China. Hangzhou houses the largest, most comprehensive bike-sharing network. It’s also one of the most affordable. Operated by the Hangzhou Public Transport Corporation, you’ll find a station every 1,000 feet or so. The easy availability of bikes almost everywhere you turn makes this system popular with locals and tourists alike. By 2020, the bike-share system is rumored to be 175,000 bikes strong.


2. Vélib in Paris, France
20,000+ bikes across 1,230 stations

Paris has one of the world’s oldest and most extensive bike-sharing systems. You’ll find a station roughly every 1,000 feet—but that doesn’t mean you’ll always find a bike. Because Vélib is an aging system, many older and completely broken bikes are docked throughout the city, and during rush hour or Metro strikes it can be tough to find an available bike or space to dock. That said, thanks to Vélib you can bike along the cobblestone Champs-Élysées with a baguette tucked under your arm; it doesn’t get more Parisian than that!


3. Boris Bikes in London, England
10,000 bikes across 700 stations

Officially called Santander Cycles, London’s public bikes are more commonly known as Boris Bikes—named after Mayor Boris Johnson. You’ll find stations in nine London boroughs and in several city parks, specifically in South West London, Shepherds Bush, Canary Wharf, Wandsworth Town and Camden Town. Check out Transport for London’s Leisure Routes for maps that guide bikers through London’s gardens, markets, boutiques and more.


4. Veturilo in Warsaw, Poland
2,926 bikes across 198 stations

Launched in 2012, Warsaw leads Eastern Europe in bike sharing. Since this system is newer than some of the longer-standing networks, the technology is more advanced; you can rent via an app, each bike has GPS, and you can return your bike by parking it in one of the “virtual” docks, which use wifi instead of a physical locking mechanism. Just keep in mind that Veturilo stations are closed in December, January and February—it’s just too cold!

Additionally, Veturilo is operated by nextbike, a bike sharing network that also operates in 70 cities across 14 countries including Germany, Austria, Switzerland, New Zealand and Latvia. Once you’re a nextbike member, you can hop on any of 20,000 bikes across their expansive European network.


5. Villo! in Brussels, Belgium
5,000 bikes across 350 stations

Brussels has been in the bike-sharing game since 2006, but its first system failed because it was too limited. JCDecaux—the same company that operates bike sharing in Paris and several other French cities—brought Villo! to Brussels in 2009 and it’s caught on. To encourage improved service, there’s even a community-run website called Where’s My Villo! that taps into server data and publishes the worst stations for finding a bike and for finding parking.


6. Tel-O Fun in Tel Aviv, Israel
1,000 bikes across 125 stations

Known for their distinctive bright-green color, the Middle East’s first bike-sharing system just turned five. Grab a Tel-O Fun bike to explore the city’s old Jaffa alleyways or to ride down the Mediterranean seashore promenade. This system is a bit different than the others in that its cable locking system doubles as a lock if you need to make a quick stop at one of Tel Aviv’s many cafés. Unlike other systems, you can’t return a bike and immediately grab another to restart the rental period. Wait 10 minutes in between rentals to avoid being charged extra.


7. BIXI in Montreal, Canada
5,200 bikes across 406stations

If you’ve biked Divvy in Chicago, Citi in New York or Hubway in Boston, you have Bixi to thank. Non-profit PBSC Urban Solutions brought Bixi to Montreal in 2009. With more than 40 miles of protected bike lanes, Montreal’s flat landscape is perfect for exploration on two wheels. Just as in Warsaw, the system is closed to riders in the winter. Despite being heralded as a success, Bixi declared bankruptcy in 2014. Even so, the city of Montreal has committed to keeping Bixi afloat until 2019.


So next time you want to cover new ground on your trip, look into bike sharing. You’ll see more of the city at a faster-than-walking pace and just might stumble across a gem you wouldn’t have noticed otherwise.


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Tagged: Europe, Top 10 Lists

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Betsy Mikel

Betsy Mikel

Betsy is a freelance copywriter who enjoys collecting passport stamps, and has a lifelong obsession with French language and culture. When she's not biking all over every city she visits to find its best taqueria, you can find Betsy on Twitter at @betsym.

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